Sunday, September 18, 2016

Witchcrap: The Shockingly Unspectacular “Blair Witch” Fails to Live Up to the Original

If there was ever cinematic proof that you can’t capture lightning in a bottle “Blair Witch” is all the proof you need. This third entry in a series that many don’t quite care much about and made by people who generally know what they’re doing, cannot even remotely match the awesome power of 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project.” This new take on the Blair Witch just doesn’t compare to the analogue scares of the original. There’s nothing as scary in this highly digitized world; the film should have been set right after the events of the first movie. In fact, the only thing this new movie gets right is not making any reference to the equally dreadful “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.”

Adam Wingard and his screenwriting collaborator Simon Barrett are great filmmakers (Every horror fan should see “You’re Next”). You can tell that they loves to make their films into little homages and but with original takes on familiar material. With “Blair Witch” it’s the first time the duo has made a sequel to a film they previously had nothing to do with. They seemed like the right guys for the job. Though, to be honest, they were screwed from the very beginning. How does one try to outdo the original? It’s so rarely accomplished well and reinforces the fact that sequels or remakes made decades after the original film are rarely successful.

The film follows James (James Allen McCune) who thinks his sister Heather (from the first movie) could still be alive in the woods where she disappeared nearly twenty years earlier. He believes a video of a woman that was recently uploaded to YouTube could be proof that she’s still alive. So he does what any other wide-eyed young adult would do, he grabs a few friends, some cameras, and goes into the same woods where his sister vanished in hopes of finding her. And then things go (predictably) horribly wrong. One girl cuts her foot almost immediately and if that isn’t enough for the whole group to turn around and just go home I don’t know what is. Soon the group gets turned around, the sun doesn’t seem to set anymore, and some kind of loud monster keeps following them. At times the shaky footage that makes up the movie feels more like “Cloverfield” than “The Blair Witch Project.” Are they being chased by a T. Rex or what?

“Blair Witch” is basically the louder, shakier, gorier, more digitized version of “The Blair Witch Project” but not nearly as scary. Sure it’s true that in the original film “not much happened” but the film was dripping with dread and it had the guts to frighten you with screams, darkness, and the unknown. Nothing this time feels remotely as genuine. When a pile of rocks appears outside of Heather’s tent it’s disturbing. When rocks appear outside the tents this time, it feels forced. The original film could easily be mistaken for a snuff film (many actually thought it was real at the time) and this one feels unbelievably manufactured. I never believed that the characters should have been filming what they were filming; and they were all rather dull and forgettable. To top it all off, the movie’s conclusion is confusing and muddled and doesn’t provide any answers, like the original, but I never felt betrayed by the first film’s abrupt ending.

“Blair Witch” is a disappointment of monstrous proportions. While I would never expect it to top the original film, it fails as a sequel by not doing anything remotely new or exciting with the already established story. At least the second movie attempted to do something different, even though it still failed. This third entry doesn’t provide any answers to the mythology created in the first film and the two films hardly even seem related save for a few creepy stick figures. Consider it nothing more than a minor ding on Wingard and Barrett’s career. But please put a fork in the found footage subgenre please, because it’s been done to death yet again.    GRADE: C

Trailer for Blair Witch on TrailerAddict.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Up in the Air: “Sully,” Clint Eastwood’s New Film, is Sullied by the Confines of Its True Life Story

The harrowing true life story that inspired “Sully” is an extraordinary one with a rare happy ending. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite make for a very extraordinary film. Clint Eastwood is a great filmmaker with a specific style (slow-burn, subtle, non-flashy are some terms that immediately come to mind). Eastwood has made some exciting thrillers and harrowing dramas and many have had decent levels of success. Many people will certainly love “Sully” but I think it’s because it features likable actors in likable roles and it tells a very likable story. Who wasn’t amazed by the “miracle on the Hudson” story that broke about seven years ago? A commercial plane hit some birds, the engines went out, and the skilled pilot make a split second decision to land the plane on the Hudson River, saving every single person on the flight. How does one make a feature film about an even that lasted merely minutes? By padding the runtime to death apparently.

“Sully” runs just barely over 90 minutes and even then it seems too long. Tom Hanks plays Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger. As we’re introduced to him at the beginning of the film he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress. He’s basically survived a plane crash and is now considered a national hero. He has complete strangers thanking him and hugging him. But we know all this stuff going into the film. The movie’s real centerpiece is the ‘event’ which is basically an extended flashback sequence towards the middle of the film. It’s thrilling and scary – most onscreen plane incidents invoke a primal fear of flying that many suffer from – but in this rare case the plane is landed rather safely (on water of course) and no one is seriously injured. But what else is there besides this well-executed and rather thrilling sequence?

Since everyone on the plane lives and the captain is considered a national treasure, who exactly is the villain? Enter the script’s version of the bad guy: the National Transportation Safety Board. They inside Sully had enough engine power to land at the airport instead of the Hudson River. The film’s final act involves a hearing in which Sully must convince the NTSB that what he did was right and in the best interest of the passengers. It’s obvious screenwriter Todd Komarnicki had to come up with some kind of conflict for Sully… apparently his post-traumatic stress wasn’t nearly enough.

Hanks is great in the role but can only do so much with his nice guy persona that’s been played out to death in movies like Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, and Bridge of Spies. The film introduce us to a few of the passengers in the hopes that we’ll care enough about them, but it’s really meaningless in the end. And it’s too bad that Emmy winners Laura Linney and Anna Gunn, being practically the only female characters, aren't given much to do.

“Sully” tells a great story but I’m not sure there’s really enough material for a feature length narrative film. This is a true life tale more appropriate for a documentarian. Eastwood, like many directors who make movies based on true events, is a little too constricted by the real life story which is so fresh in everyone’s mind. The airplane sequence is certainly thrilling but even Mr. Sullenberger himself could not save the film from what ultimately feels like big-budgeted made-for-cable affair.  GRADE: C+   

Trailer for Sully on TrailerAddict.